Alternatively Speaking: Light therapy

Alternative medicine enthusiast Natalie Marx answers your questions: What are the benefits of Yoga? How can I boost Vitamin D levels?

light fixture 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
light fixture 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The questions in this week’s column have been centered around the theme of light. The Hanukka miracle revolves around light - a small cruse of pure oil that was only enough for one night, but burned for eight. Light is one the most important dynamics for life. Its power and significance is just beginning to be understood. Light is energy our bodies use, its biochemical action affects the metabolic hormones in our bodies. Light affects enzymatic reactions, for example; babies that suffer from jaundice are placed under blue light to help them. Light has a whole new application within the medical field too. The Europeans and Japanese have not been shy to push forward in this new science. There has been overwhelming success treating brain tumors, esophageal and lung cancers using photo dynamic therapy. The sun was once used as a general tonic to heal almost everything and man has run naked on this planet under the sun for centuries. Sunlight has a powerful connection to life and nurture to our health. It has been the inspiration of many cultures and is the most important element of our evolution and survival, we cannot live without it.
Q. Natalie I have just started to learn Yoga. Can you tell me the benefits of the Sun Salutations Sequence?
A. Sun salutations, called surya namaskar in Sanskrit, are able to generate heat to cleanse your mind and body. It is the foundation of all Yoga. As a moving meditation, this flowing series of selected poses honor the light and life-sustaining energy of the life force within your own body. The salute to the sun gets your heart pumping, increases circulation and takes your body through a full range of motion, which gets you into a comfortable flow. Traditionalists often perform the sun salutations facing east to symbolize the dawn of awareness.
The sequence deliberately includes lunges, chair pose and the warrior poses, all of which both stabilize and stretch your body. As you formulate your own practice, you can expand your sense of playfulness by incorporating your own variations.
Q.  My father just recently turned 85. Blood tests reveal that he has vitamin D deficiency. Can you recommend anything that might be able to help?
 A. When the body lacks adequate levels of Vitamin D, it does not produce enough calcium and phosphorus. Early signs of Vitamin D deficiency include nervousness, muscle spasms, leg cramps, numbness in the extremities, symptoms so often seen amongst the elderly. Vitamin D is absorbed by the skin from sunlight. The Vitamin D that we get from food is not fully active and needs to be converted by the liver. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is toxic if you take too much, unlike Vitamin C which is water soluble, the excess flushed out of your system with urine. Vitamin D allows the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus,  that is why it is added to milk.
Your father should try to increase other nutritional sources of Vitamin D found in dairy products, eggs (the yolk), cod liver oil, mackerel and salmon. It is natural that aging can also cause a loss of the body's ability to synthesize Vitamin D. There is a close association between low bone density and Vitamin D deficiency. Half of all women and one quarter of men between fifty and seventy-five years of age show some signs of Vitamin D deficiency. Elderly and home-bound people often see no sunshine. In the old days, the sick or physically disabled were encouraged to sit out on a porch or deck for the benefits of sunshine and fresh air.  Sunlight is the best and only 'natural' source of vitamin D. Unlike dietary or supplementary vitamin D, when you get your ‘D’ from sunshine your body takes what it needs, and de-metabolizes any extra. That’s critical – as vitamin D experts and many health groups now advocate 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily – five to ten times the old recommendations. Too much ‘D’ from dietary supplements may cause the body to over-process calcium, and nobody really knows for sure how much supplementary vitamin D is safe. On the other hand, sunlight-induced vitamin D doesn’t have that problem since that is the way your body is intended to obtain it!
We need ten to 15 minutes of direct sunlight on unprotected skin several times a week from May to September to make enough Vitamin D to see us through the winter. Outside these months, the sun is at the wrong angle to produce the right wavelength of ultraviolet light, and no Vitamin D is produced.
People are so aware of the dangers of UV damage that even in the summer they often avoid it and we’re especially careful of children, because of the link between early sunburn and skin cancer. In October, our levels of Vitamin D should still be acceptable, assuming we have gone out in the sun during the summer,’ says Dr. Elina Hypponen of the Medical Research Council’s Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health in the UK.
Vitamin D is, however, stored for only between one and two months in the body. From then on, levels start to drop and by January almost everyone will have below optimum levels. I recommend your father consult with his GP on the option of taking vitamin D supplements.
Q. My psychotherapist has diagnosed me as having SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder. Alongside my weekly therapy sessions can you recommend anything natural that will help?
A. Light box therapy can be very effective for the treatment of SAD. It is most effective when it's combined with another seasonal affective disorder treatment such as psychological counseling (psychotherapy).
The light from a light box mimics outdoor sunlight. The light from the box causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Light therapy can also be used to help adjust daily sleep cycles (circadian rhythm), which may play a role in mood. I suggest you discuss how much you use the box with your psychotherapist, otherwise I usually recommend usage for 30 minutes or longer each morning, with bright light shining indirectly toward you.
You can buy a light box over-the-counter, without a doctor's prescription. Different light boxes produce different types and intensities of light also coming in different shapes and sizes with different features
This column is brought to you as general information only and unless stated otherwise is not medical advice nor is it based on medical experiments. This column is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. For more information about specific problems, please contact a doctor.
Ask Natalie: If you have a health query and would like an alternative answer then email Natalie with your question at [email protected]